NZ POLITICS DAILY: It's Cunliffe vs Robertson - and it's no contest
Bryce Edwards | Friday August 23, 2013 | 6 comments
Labour’s new leadership is quickly shaping up to be a likely David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson combo, as leader and deputy, and there may be no real contest.
Although various political journalists are surveying the leadership options and suggest a full Labour leadership contest will play out with a struggle between Cunliffe and Robertson, in reality the more likely scenario is that the two contenders will combine in as a formidable ‘unity ticket’, leaving a wider democratic contest essentially unnecessary, or at least uncompetitive.
Certainly when leading political commentator John Armstrong comes out – as he has today – and declares that Cunliffe is the only real option for leader, then the discussion starts shifting into an inevitable consensus – see: The only option... it has to be the ambitious unpopular one. Armstrong is right to say that a Cunliffe-Robertson ‘ticket would be unbeatable’ and he makes a strong case for a Cunliffe-led unity leadership being on the cards. It is possible that before the end of the day – and certainly by the close of nominations – there may be an acceptance that the Cunliffe-Robertson unity ticket is the most powerful option available for Labour.
Chris Trotter also analyses the options for Grant Robertson, and he pronounces that there is ‘only one course of action for Robertson to follow, and that is to approach Cunliffe and offer himself as his running-mate on a Unity Ticket. A Cunliffe-Robertson combination would be unbeatable in the Electoral College – a fact which, once absorbed by the other possible contenders for the leadership – Shane Jones and Andrew Little, would argue for an uncontested succession.
Cunliffe-Robertson combination would see Labour cross the political fault line for the first time in thirty years. It could energise the party and the wider labour movement in ways that would transform the 2014 election into a genuine and passionate political contest’ – see: Making the Case for a Cunliffe-Robertson Unity Ticket. My own views on why a Cunliffe-Robertson unity combo is likely are reported by Dene Mackenzie in the ODT today – see: Cunliffe tipped for role.
The possibility of a stitch up is also discussed today by Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small in Labour crosses fingers for easy handover. They say that the combo might be the other way around, with Robertson leading: ‘Some would prefer a bloodless transition, which would be less of a distraction and provide a better chance of presenting the caucus as united.
But that would require the two main contenders - Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe – to come to an accommodation over the leadership and deputy leadership. The smart money at this stage is on a Robertson-Cunliffe ticket as leader and deputy respectively. But it is not clear whether Mr Cunliffe will accept that’. And elsewhere, Tracy Watkins also says that ‘If Mr Robertson and Mr Cunliffe aren't already talking about doing a deal, they should be. The alternative is probably three more years in opposition’ – see: Lack of timing and nous.
In such a scenario, the other main contenders are likely to drop out of the race in recognition of the impossibility of beating a Cunliffe-Robertson ticket. Supporting that view is news just out that Shane Jones won’t be competing – see Newswire’s Jones unlikely to contest leadership.
The main problem with the Cunliffe/Robertson scenario is that their leadership ticket would probably lead to their automatic appointment without a full leadership vote by the wider party membership and affiliated unions. This would be criticised as undemocratic, as Toby Manhire points out today in his column Labour needs leader contest, not a stitch up. Manhire says that an undemocratic ‘coronation’ would be damaging to the new leader’s credibility. Similarly, Danyl Mclauchlan blogs today on the stitch up possibility: ‘I don’t know which of them the party should choose. I do know that they should listen to their god-dammed members this time around, and not just stitch something up in caucus or do a deal with the unions to block vote for a leadership team’ – see: Very serious punditry.
Labour’s party president Moira Coatsworth is being reported today as warning MPs ‘that grassroots members will not accept a deal over the leadership done behind closed doors’ – see Vernon Small’s Labour leadership up for grabs with Shearer gone. But this article also reports Cunliffe supporter, Lianne Dalziel as believing that ‘Labour would unite quickly to do a deal on a new leader rather than enduring a contested and potentially bloody process: "There are a lot of people who would like to see the matter resolved quickly - very quickly," she said’. Helen Kelly expressed a similar opinion today on Morning Report. But TVNZ’s Corin Dann disagrees about this possibility, saying an election contest now looks inevitable.
There are also reasons to believe that such a deal might actually be widely accepted by the membership and unions. First, if its true that those groups generally favour Cunliffe as leader, then they are much less likely to protest their favoured candidate winning, regardless of the process.
Second, the advantages of a bloodless leadership transition that avoids further infighting and negative coverage might be embraced – or at least accepted – by many in the party, who now just want Labour to unify under the strongest leadership possible. As much as party activists might enjoy a real battle, the worst scenario would be an all-out, three week, winner-takes-all public brawl. Regardless of the outcome, National would rub its hands in glee with the prospect of playing on internal divisions right up until the election.
Third, if Cunliffe and Robertson announce a joint bid for the leadership, then it won’t necessarily be seen as their fault if no other MPs decided to stand as alternative candidates. Instead, the overwhelming narrative will be focused on the burying of the hatchet between Cunliffe and Robertson. There might be minor grumbles about behind-the-scenes maneuvering that produced that outcome, but it would be accepted as being for ‘the greater good’.
There is another plausible scenario, in which a Cunliffe-Robertson combo might emerge after both candidates fight it out with the loser taking the deputy leader position – a situation in which no outsider MPs are given a chance to become deputy to the winning candidate (as is the usual practice). This would satisfy the desire for a democratic contest while producing the same outcome. Of course this scenario might still produce some undesirable bloodletting and destabilisation. As Trotter says today about such open contests, ‘Things can be done that cannot be undone; words spoken that cannot be unsaid’.
Certainly if there is any kind of contest, the unions and caucus will obviously play a strong role, and might easily dominate the wider party membership. Talking on Radio New Zealand National this morning, the head of the CTU, Helen Kelly, appeared to be suggesting that the unions would be likely to vote as a bloc. Similarly, if the caucus decides to do a deal, essentially also bloc-voting, the membership vote becomes largely irrelevant. The lesson is that smaller organised groups will always be able to dominate wider membership if they work together.
What about Andrew Little? Might the union movement want to get ‘their man’ into the job? That’s being suggested by some, but Gordon Campbell argues today that unions will be more focused on backing the strongest possible candidate: ‘The union leadership is nothing if not realistic, however. And as Helen Kelly said on RNZ this morning, the bottom line has to be who can win the next election. For all of Cunliffe’s flaws – and the fabled egotism, pomposity and shoot from the hip tendencies have all been brought under greater control in recent years – it would seem obvious to everyone but the diehards in the Labour caucus that Cunliffe is a better media performer than Little’ – see: On Shearer’s exit, and where Labour goes from here.
In the negotiations going on behind the scenes at the moment, there will also be a lot of thought given to other front-bench positions, especially as pay-off incentives to powerbrokers and other potential leadership candidates. In the NBR, Rob Hosking looks at some of the potential scenarios – see his (paywalled) article, Labour's Michelle Boag moment. He says that there is likely to be a clean out of the ‘deadwood’ in the caucus, and he pays particular attention to who might be appointed to ‘the key economic and business-related roles’, suggesting Goff or Jones for the finance portfolio.
Most of the maneuvering, positioning and number crunching is likely to have occurred prior to Shearer’s resignation yesterday. Certainly we should be taking anything Labour MPs say with a very large grain of salt – after all, these are the same people that have been staunchly denying any possibility of Shearer being replaced as leader. But slowly, MPs will start to reveal their loyalties and preferences – and first off the block is Palmerston North's Iain Lees-Galloway, who says ‘I personally would have liked to have seen David Cunliffe selected when Phil Goff resigned [following the 2011 election] and am still of that opinion. He is smart, articulate, and very good at policy too’ – see: Mathew Grocott’s Time for Shearer to go - Lees-Galloway.
And, of course, the question needs to be asked as to whether Labour will need more than just a change of leadership to become a viable alternative government. Labour’s Josie Pagani puts this perspective forward in her blogpost, Labour needs more than a new leader – it needs change. She concludes: ‘Labour can't get elected by hiding from the public what it really wants to do. Unpopular policies have to go, not be clumsily repackaged. And out with unpopular policies must go those parts of the political organisation that prevented David Shearer from making the changes he knew had to be made. Labour is hamstrung by palace politics. Factional loyalty counts for more than performance or electability. Until Labour can be frank about that and tolerant of a contest of ideas, no leader will be successful. I don't know who will lead Labour next. But Labour needs more than a lick of paint or snappier sound bites at six. It needs change’.
In the meantime, as the contest – or stitch up – shapes up, it’s worth re-reading Guyon Espiner’s excellent Listener profiles of the two main characters – see: Labour deputy Grant Robertson and Labour MP David Cunliffe. Also on the Listener site, Jane Clifton gives her opinion in A tale of two snapper.
In terms of David Shearer’s demise, there’s plenty of time to analyse this, but the two key article to read today are Claire Trevett’s Revealed: The woman who triggered Shearer's downfall and Vernon Small’s Shearer: Why he quit.
Finally, for irreverent and playful – but also insightful – takes on the Shearer’s resignation and the contest for the new leadership, see Ben Uffindell Civilian blog posts, A Look Back: Remembering Dale Shearer and David Shearer resigns, ‘if that’s okay with everyone’, Scott Yorke’s It's a tough decision, and my own blogpost, Images of David Shearer.
NZPD Editor (bryce.edwards@
John Armstrong: The only option... it has to be the ambitious unpopular one
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Crossing The Fault Line: Making the Case for a Cunliffe-Robertson Unity Ticket
Toby Manhire (Herald): Labour needs leader contest, not a stitch up
Josie Pagani (Pundit): Labour needs more than a new leader - it needs change
Gordon Campbell (Scoop): On Shearer’s exit, and where Labour goes from here
Dan Satherley (TV3): Pundits pick Cunliffe for Labour leader
Radio NZ: Labour leadership contest now on
Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Cunliffe tipped for role
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): Very serious punditry
Vernon Small (Stuff): Labour leadership up for grabs with Shearer gone
Jane Clifton (Listener): A tale of two snapper
Rob Hosking (NBR): Labour's Michelle Boag moment
Newswire: Jones unlikely to contest leadership
Ben Uffindell (The Civilian): A Look Back: Remembering Dale Shearer
Dene Mackenzie (ODT): Leadership race: city connections
Bill Moore (Stuff): Maryan Street's role in David Shearer's downfall
Mike Hosking (Newstalk ZB): Labour has no heir apparent
Duncan Garner (RadioLive): Labour pains
Claire Trevett (Herald): Date confirmed for new Labour leader
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Advice to the new Labour Leader – your first 100 days
Newswire: Clark may have influenced Shearer's call
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Why Shearer failed
Grant Duncan (Policy matters): Shearer's clever exit
Audrey Young (Herald): A fish out of water whose leadership never took off
Southland Times Editorial: Leaderless Labour
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): 40 + 40 + 20 doesn’t equal unity
Mathew Grocott (Stuff): Time for Shearer to go - Lees-Galloway
Corin Dann (TVNZ): Election contest now looking inevitable
Nelson Mail: Editorial – Shearer unable to land enough blows
Denis Welch (Opposable thumb): The players
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Ardern dismisses Labour leadership run
Matthew Dallas (Stuff): Shearer never at ease at the top
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): 'Cunliffe factor' dogged rookie's leadership
Wanganui Chronicle: McDouall sad to see Shearer go
The Standard: A contest
The Standard: Why I electorate vote Cunliffe: op ed
Newstalk ZB: Battle for a new leader begins at Labour
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): No stitch up, there will be a contest
Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): So long, David Shearer
Martin Gregory (ISO): Goodbye Mr Shearer, and good riddance
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): The Owl Predictor – Andrew Little will be the next Labour Leader
The Standard: Choose wisely
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Throwing leadership over to the membership
Dan Satherley (TV3): 'Cycle is turning' against 'arrogant' govt - Goff
The Jackal: Labour’s next leader
David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Leadership, Popularity and Politics
The Press: Shearer like a fish out of water
Dominion Post: Editorial: Shearer made the right choice
Pete George (Your NZ): "Nice guys don't last long in this game
Peter O’Neill (Timaru Herald): Editorial: It's all about image
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Break out the popcorn
Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): It's a tough decision
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Labour worse than war zone
Claire Trevett (Herald): Revealed: The woman who triggered Shearer's downfall
Newswire: Cunliffe leading iPredict stakes
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Lack of timing and nous
Alex Fensome (Stuff): Key says Shearer undermined by his deputy
Tracy Watkins and Vernon Small (Stuff): Labour crosses fingers for easy handover
Keeping Stock: The strange case of the missing deputy
Steven Cowan (Against the Current): That sinking feeling
The Standard: Unity and democracy
Pete George (Your NZ): Who should lead Labour?
Ideologically Impure: Well that was unexpected
Ben Uffindell (The Standard): David Shearer resigns, ‘if that’s okay with everyone’
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): David Shearer stands down (as predicted on TDB): The danger of not picking Cunliffe
Felix Marwick, Jacob Brown, Philippa Ormrod and Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): David Shearer stands down - Robertson, Cunliffe not ruling out standing
Michael Fox (Stuff): MPs offer mixed reaction
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Fraser House news tips
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Text from New York
Radio NZ: Maori Party extends sympathy to Shearer
Claire Trevett (Herald): Shearer resignation: Labour leadership race begins
Newswire: Leadership contenders start to emerge
Radio NZ: Labour leadership contest now on
Adam Bennett (Herald): Dogged by divisions and misfirings
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): He'll sleep well tonight – Goff
Vernon Small (Stuff): Shearer: Why he quit
Isaac Davison (Herald): 'Nice guys don't last in this game'
Felix Marwick and Katie Bradford-Crozier (Newstalk ZB): Labour focuses on unity, renewal after Shearer resigns
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): A new Labour Party member
Claire Trevett (Herald): Shearer resignation: Labour leadership race begins
Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Little doubt Shearer had to go
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Could caucus stitch up the ballot?
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Shearer is gone, but who next?
Gwynne Dyer (Stuff): Spy-free net demand will cost US
No Right Turn: The morning after
Michael Daly (Stuff): Key questions if GCSB law is controversial
The Jackal (Daily Blog): Our surveillance free future
Cameron Slater (Whaleoil): Labour’s hypocrisy over GCSB bill
Peter Aranyi (The Paepae): Denial is not just a river in Egypt #GCSB
The Inquiring Mind: GCSB ‘media’ coverage
Pete George (Your NZ): Labour’s self laid GCSB minefield
No Right Turn: In case anyone needs it
Industrial relations reform
Simon Wong (TV3): Police Assoc against employment changes
Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Privileges committee hears Thorn never met Henry
The Standard: Collins & Key go head to head over Henry Inquiry
Tracy Watkins and Caleb Harris (Stuff): We're a long way from 100 per cent pure
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Power to move beggars on becomes law
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The begging ban
Law and order
Emma Jolliff (TV3): Collins wants answers from IPCA
Rob Kidd (Stuff): IPCA Rewa complaint refusal queried
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Blaming legal aid changes
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Minimum wage and KiwiSaver
Shane Cowlishaw (Stuff): Employers watch minimum-wage case
Beith Atkinson (Integrity Talking Points): Social media may not be the right media for agencies
Newswire: Snapper submission deadline approaches
Catherine Harris (Stuff): No decision on paywalls, says Fairfax
Newswire: Govt tracks down fines defaulters
Barbara Dreaver (TVNZ): NZ accused of 'bullying' Tonga over plane
Cut Your Hair: Stuff: more right-wing bias than Radio Rhema
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Govt can’t always use kill switch
Taranaki Daily News: Gay weddings go straight into NZ's pocket
Ele Ludemann (Homepaddock): Mandatory audit of party membership
Stuart Nash (Daily Blog): In defense of Labour electorate MPs
Jack Tautokai McDonald (Maui Street): Motorway madness